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Margaret MontetInformation Literacy: Library Research for the Technically Savvy

by Margaret Montet

Are you sinking into the quicksand of this technological age? Are you not able to keep up with advances in your favorite pastimes because their publications are no longer in print, but only online? Are you longing to take a class just for fun, but hesitating because you don't know how to use the library anymore?

There are many opportunities for seniors and retirees to continue learning, and sometimes an excursion through the information jungle will enhance the experience. You can learn to find current information in the public library and on the Internet.

We call the skills needed to keep pace, "Information Literacy". To you, this means developing the skills you need to find information, and deciding what information (especially online) is reliable. Let's start with our old friend, the public library. Today, librarians use computers as tools to help find, organize and retrieve information. The Dewey Decimal System, the Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature, and other traditional classification systems are still used. However instead of putting these indexes on cards or in thick heavy books, most are now available online. The search strategies used in these tools are similar: you can search by author, title, subject or keywords.

Most libraries now have OPACs, or Online Public Access Computers. These are simply the machines you use to find locations of books and other items in the library. Once you master the steps of looking up an item, the rest will be familiar. Ask a reference librarian to show you how your library's OPAC works.

Suppose your class is reading To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. You can search for this novel by either typing in "To The Lighthouse" as a title, or by typing in "Woolf, Virginia" as the author. Depending on how your library classifies fiction, you will either be directed to the fiction section where you will look in the Ws, or, you will be given a Dewey Decimal number to find in the stacks. Sound familiar?

If your library does not own the specific book you are looking for, they can probably get it for you. The book may be obtained through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). You don't need to know what library has the book, but you must supply the librarian with the author and title. The book could come from the next county, or it could come from the other side of the country. Please remember that no matter where the book comes from, your librarian will not be able to guarantee an arrival date. This will depend upon whether the book is on the shelf waiting for your request or if it is currently checked-out, and how long the US Post Office takes to get it to your library. Avoid waiting until the last minute to make your request!

The newest information is found in periodicals (magazines and journals). Most libraries have some kind of online tool or index for accessing articles in all types of magazines and journals. These tools work very much the same way as the OPACs. You can search by author, keyword or subject, and limit your search to specific periodicals or dates. When you find articles that are relevant to your topic, take a look at the citation (the bibliographical information and descripton) to see how it has been classified. There may be other useful search terms. Also, if you are writing an article or composing a speech, the information in the citation is what you need to give proper credit to the author. If you find an article that has only a citation and no full-text, check to see if your library can get the article for you through Interlibrary Loan, or find another library that subscribes to that periodical.


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